Elder Speak 2021: Dr. Francis Collins: A life of adventure, gratitude, service
Dr. Francis Collins: A life of adventure and gratitude
Listening to Dr. Francis Collins speak about his life, from growing up in an army camp in rural Ireland, to ultimately practicing medicine in the Wenatchee Valley, you get the sense that he has made the most out of every opportunity he encountered and lived with a sense of purpose and gratitude.
There is a twinkle in his eye, a deep sense of compassion and caring for others, wrapped up in an adventurous spirit. His approach to life is an inspiration and reminds us to see what is beautiful in this life.
Collins is one of four individuals participating in the Elder Speak program of the Ripple Foundation this year that gives them the opportunity to explore the wisdom they have gained through life experiences and pass those teachings along to the rest of us. He’s joined by Jan Wallick, Helen Rayfield and Dr. Jerry Gibbons. You can access their profiles at artofcommunityncw.com.
He grew up in Curragh Camp, a base that once trained soldiers headed to the Crimean War. He recalls all of the horses around the camp which were being trained for the cavalry, although the switch was being made to vehicles.
“It was a wonderful place for a child to be raised with these open spaces by the swimming pool,” Collins recalled, who was born in 1941 to a father who was in the military and a mother who was a teacher.
He remembers the wonderful sense of community that existed. From his parents, he learned what he considers a most important lesson: “Always be nice to everybody and never judge a man by his religion or his color,” he said.
He played with the children of non-commissioned officers and enlisted men, alike, which reinforced his view that people were equal. He also learned to give respect to his elders. If he referred to an officer by his regular name, “he would correct me and say, ‘that’s lieutenant to you, young man,’” Collins said.
He was also influenced by the Dominican priests at the boarding school he attended, who insisted that the students give far more than minimum effort. They wanted students to challenge themselves. Collins played rugby and recalled that the priest who was coaching insisted that they play clean, hard rugby in a sport in which that was not always the case. This fed Collins’ sense of fair play and personal responsibility.
He went on to study dentistry and then went back to medical school for specialty training in maxillofacial surgery. A country doctor had encouraged Collins to become a physician.
Collins ended up at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle before coming to Wenatchee to practice medicine.
Family is deeply important to him. He cared for his wife Gabby through all the years of her decline due to Alzheimer’s and said he’s grateful he was young enough to be able to do so. He was able to care for her at home until near the end of her life. He also has a daughter, Mairead, who lives in London.
His patients and their families have been a tremendous source of strength and inspiration for Collins. Their dignity in the face of suffering and loss gave him a deep understanding of what it means to be human.
Practicing medicine in the Wenatchee Valley, he had the privilege of treating multiple generations of family members. “I’ve met wonderful people here, the salt of the earth, I would say,” Collins said.
Collins, who retired from surgery four years ago, stays active being outdoors and also volunteers at Lighthouse Ministries, or at least was until the pandemic. He also worked for the Chelan Douglas Health District until a year ago.
Ever the hopeful sort, Collins hopes that medical professionals won’t forget the relational aspect of the professional and not let technology take precedence. Most of all, Collins reminds us of the importance of understanding history and thinking in terms of multiple generations rather than just this brief moment in time.